Cape High scrambles after gym-floor disaster

Work is already under way to replace the floor of the gym at Cape Elizabeth High School that was severely damaged when an errant soccer ball hit a ceiling-mounted fire sprinkler, which then spewed nearly 1,000 gallons of water.

The floor of the gym at Cape Elizabeth High School is “a total loss” following a freak accident last week and will be closed through early December at least, according to Greg Marles, the facilities director.

Marles said a full replacement of the floor, which is only two years old, is required and is expected to cost $150,000. In addition, the clean-up effort will add another $30,000 to the overall tab. However, Marles said, all costs associated with the incident will be covered by insurance.

The problem began when a student kicked a soccer ball into a ceiling-mounted fire sprinkler, which then dumped between 800 and 1,000 gallons of water onto the gym floor.

“A ball hit the cage protecting the sprinkler head and then the head itself at just the right angle and rate of speed to break both the cage and the head,” Jeff Shedd, principal at Cape High School, said in a letter sent home to parents, which was also shared with the School Board.

“Staff responded quickly and had the water off the floor within about 15 minutes,” he added. “However, the floor has been damaged (and) we learned that the entire floor needs to be replaced.”

Repair work is already under way, Shedd said, and the gym is expected to be closed to all activity through Dec. 5, which displaced the town’s polling place right before Election Day.

Town Clerk Deb Lane said last week that voting would be moved to the cafeteria at the high school and that all voter entrances and drop-offs would remain the same for the election that took place Tuesday.

In his letter, Shedd that since the gym is already closed, “We have also decided to move up the installation of a new heating and ventilation system. The system that has been in the gym is old, noisy, inefficient and expensive to operate.”

He said work on the gym’s heating and ventilation systems was approved as part of this year’s Capital Improvement Plan, but it had originally been scheduled to take place in June to avoid disruption to physical education classes, games and other school and community activities.

“The bottom line is that there is lot of work happening in the gym. Some of it will definitely be noisy, particularly when the new gym floor is being installed,” Shedd’s letter said.

He also said that Jeff Thoreck, Cape’s athletic administrator, “is working on a plan to allow our gym-dependent winter sports to hold practices at alternative locations. Our physical education teachers are (also) working creatively to keep their classes moving forward.”

Marles said the sprinkler head hit by the ball was 21 feet above the gym floor. He called the incident “a one-in-a-million shot.” The student who kicked the ball is not facing any discipline for the accident, he said.

The gym floor featured a surface of maple harvested from sustainable forests and a substructure of recycled plastic and was installed in August 2014 by Connor Sports Flooring.

Marles said the new floor was supposed to be water resistant, but it couldn’t hold up to the large quantity of water spilled.

“It’s a top-of-the-line floor, but 1,000 gallons of water and hardwood just don’t go together,” he said. “It’s unfortunate because we spent a lot of time putting that in.”

In addition to the floor being replaced, Marles also said the school department would also replace all 100 sprinkler cages in the gym with specially designed enclosures that are more resistant to damage.

Sun Media Wire Staff Writer Kate Gardner contributed to this report.

Work is already under way to replace the floor of the gym at Cape Elizabeth High School that was severely damaged when an errant soccer ball hit a ceiling-mounted fire sprinkler, which then spewed nearly 1,000 gallons of water.